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Editorial: County should keep its UNMH lease short-term

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An estimated one in four New Mexicans was on Medicaid (known in the Land of Enchantment as Centennial Care) last year, and as of March 20, another 103,000 had signed on as part of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

With another 67,000 expected to be added to those rolls under the ACA, better known as Obamacare, it is premature at best for Bernalillo County to talk about another long-term lease with University of New Mexico Hospital to cover indigent care.

That’s because under Medicaid alone the feds are expected to take care of at least 90 percent of the medical bills of roughly a third of the state’s population in perpetuity.

Given that the other two-thirds of New Mexicans should either have jobs with insurance, Medicare or access to subsidized coverage through the ACA’s exchanges, who, exactly, will be left to cover as an indigent?

That’s a $78.5 million question county taxpayers need answered sooner rather than later.

The County Commission voted unanimously last week to exercise a lease provision and open negotiations with the hospital, which it has subsidized with property taxes since 1954, and a theme was ensuring affordable access to health care for the poor.

Sireesha Manne, an attorney for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, told commissioners up to 60,000 Bernalillo County residents will remain uninsured after March 31, the ACA sign-up deadline for this year.

But with Medicaid expansion and subsidized private insurance available through Obamacare, who, exactly, will Bernalillo County taxpayers be paying 78.5 million in property tax dollars annually to care for? (Pre-ACA, voters approved maintaining the 6.4 mill tax for UNMH in 2008, meaning the owner of a home with an assessed value of $200,000 shells out $427 a year.)

The answer should become clearer this year as the ACA rolls out, and the specifics of care and coverage under it and other insurance programs roll out with it.

Commissioners plan to consider a final lease agreement by Sept. 30 and have a 10-member advisory task force develop recommendations to help in lease negotiations. But one thing is already clear: Until the county has specifics on whom its millions will be caring for now that Obamacare is here, commissioners should keep UNMH on a short-term lease.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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